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July 25, 2018

Keeping litigation costs down and clients happy

 

By Jonathan Groner

At the recent conference of the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) one panel was titled “When the Red Phone Rings: Managing Litigation to Keep Costs Down and Clients Happy, From Crisis to Completion.”  We recently discussed their conclusions and more in this interview with panelist Jason Osnes, Director of Strategic Finance and Project Management at Dorsey & Whitney LLP.    

 

LegalBizDev: Do you believe that the growing emphasis on legal operations, on the client side, and the focus on Legal Project Management (LPM), on the law firm side, go well together?

Osnes: Definitely. Our clients are looking for efficiency and predictability, and LPM helps to achieve that. At CLOC they say their goals are to be “efficient, innovative and aligned,” and these represent very similar objectives to what we are striving for with LPM. In fact, when we see this quest for efficiency occurring with such frequency on the client side, it helps me internally to legitimize what we are trying to do here with LPM.

LegalBizDev: You presented at CLOC on a panel with an associate from your firm and two people from a client, one lawyer and one legal operations person. In addition to you, the panelists were Ben Kappelman of Dorsey & Whitney; Paul Dieseth, Vice President, Associate General Counsel, U.S. Bank; and Matt Wahlquist, VP, Head of Outside Counsel Management, Pricing, and Analytics, U.S. Bank. Tell us a little about how that discussion went.

Osnes:  We explained how we work together from the initiation of a legal matter to its end. We discussed how our roles overlap and how we all attempt to increase efficiency and predictability in the spirit that CLOC promotes. The process can sometimes begin with the client, who may request a budget for a matter, and then the Dorsey & Whitney attorney will work with the LPM department to develop a litigation plan and scope the matter out in a way that meets the client’s objectives. Sometimes the lawyer at Dorsey & Whitney moves proactively to develop a budget and wants tools for that purpose, both from my department and from the client. The primary takeaway from our presentation was that true client collaboration involves a lot of proactive communication between attorneys and operations, at the firm and the client, throughout the entire matter lifecycle.

LegalBizDev: What effect do you think the rise of legal operations will have on the importance of LPM and on client development?

Osnes: Legal operations and LPM began as functions to facilitate administrative tasks, but both have grown beyond that to play a key role in improving the relationship between law firm and client. I believe that the demand on the part of clients for law firms with a real LPM capacity will only increase, and that means LPM can become a differentiator for law firms. I’m talking about firms that really do LPM, not those that just check the box that says they do it.

LegalBizDev: Many things can occur in litigation that are not predictable from the outset. Can clients and law firms, each armed with their new management tools, work together to reduce uncertainty?

Osnes: Yes. Just because something is unpredictable, that doesn’t mean you have to throw up your hands. If you as a law firm attorney talk to the client as early as possible, you can develop a solid baseline to manage a case, which ensures everyone is on the same page from the beginning. You may only be able to budget from the outset through a certain phase, rather than all the way through a possible trial, but it’s important to just develop, far in advance, a set of expectations that both sides will be comfortable with. Then, you need to be disciplined in tracking and communicating changes from that baseline when they inevitably occur.

The key is to explain this to the client from the outset. Another key is to remember that pricing and budgeting are something that you do with a client and not to a client.

LegalBizDev: How might this work in practice as a legal matter proceeds?

Osnes: If both the law firm and the client are working with a budget and using it as a management tool, they can almost instantly talk about new cost issues as they come up. They can ask: How will this development, say the need for the law firm to do a task that was originally out of scope, affect the budget? Attorneys on both sides now know this is out of scope or wasn’t contemplated in the budget and can talk readily about how this unexpected event can be handled in terms of the existing budget, or whether changes need to be made.

LegalBizDev: What role do outside litigation vendors play in this process?

Osnes: Some clients have preferred vendors that they use for e-discovery and other important litigation tasks. That is often part of their commitment to improving efficiency through “legal ops.” In our planning and budgeting process, we need to be aware of those. At the conclusion of a matter, when we and the client are evaluating what worked well and what didn’t, we need to look at the work of those vendors as part of the evaluation. Also, we at Dorsey & Whitney have our own in-house e-discovery and document review service called LegalMineTM, and if that team is part of the litigation, we and the client need to evaluate its performance after the case is over, as well.

LegalBizDev: Has anything changed in the way in which your pricing and LPM group presents itself internally to the firm’s attorneys?

Osnes: In the past, we have always described ourselves as a resource for our internal clients, Dorsey & Whitney lawyers. Now that the firm’s clients are asking for so much more, we also emphasize how our LPM team can improve client service, help lawyers meet each client’s expectations, and keep client relationships healthy and strong.

 

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